May 23, 2001 8:40 AM PDT

Dell: Linux too tech for the desktop

Dell Computer says Linux is set to make significant headway into the market for graphics workstations, but also says the dream of a desktop competitor to Windows remains just that--a dream.

The initial optimism over Linux as a client desktop environment has given way to more sedate projections, even as Linux continues to make significant inroads into servers. The closure last week of Eazel, which was working on an easy-to-use Linux graphical user interface, was a sign to many in the industry that the Linux desktop promise has failed to pan out. Linux has less than 2 percent of the desktop market, according to industry analysts.

Dell recently became the world's largest PC maker, surpassing Compaq Computer, and is also the leader in workstations, so its views carry a certain weight.

The company says the bulk of its sales are in servers, with Linux workstation sales remaining "substantial enough that we're still interested," according to Rick Thwaites, Dell's European head of marketing for Precision workstations.

"It's still a fundamentally technical operating system," said Steve Smith, Dell's European market development manager for client systems. "It's very easy for someone who doesn't know what they're doing to break. It's not designed for the novice user."

Microsoft's grip on the applications market, with Office, also shows no sign of weakening, Smith said.

No mass market
Instead of the mass market, the biggest target for Linux at the moment is the high-end graphics workstations used by engineers and industrial designers, according to Dell. So far Linux hasn't made much progress there because of lack of support for graphics cards.

For Linux, "What we aren't seeing yet is much in the way of real engineering applications," Smith said. "That is the thing changing now. All the effort at the moment is going into robust graphics support."

Dell has been using Linux as a more flexible operating system for people who would otherwise use Unix workstations. Unlike Unix, Linux does not tie the user into hardware from a particular company.

New figures from IDC put Dell as the leader in the world-branded workstation market, with a 28.3 percent share for the first quarter of the year. Dell said it has 42.3 percent of the personal workstation market, which grew 28 percent year on year. The overall personal workstation market fell by 10 percent.

On Monday Dell unveiled the latest addition to its Precision workstation line, the Precision 530, which offers easy access to the chassis.

In morning trading, Dell shares rose $1.26 to $27.20, after two prominent brokerages recommended shares of the PC maker.

Staff writer Matthew Broersma reported from London.


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